Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Big Brother Does Vegas

What Happened There Is In FBI Files


The Cool Justice Report
May 15, 2007

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

The advertising pitch, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," has a new and disturbing twist.

Around New Year's 2004, the FBI demanded and received records from all hotels, airlines, rental car agencies and casinos on every person who visited the city in the days leading up to the holiday.

Acting on a belief that Al Queda had an undisclosed interest in Las Vegas, the private lives of 250,000 visitors were invaded. The records were reviewed and cross checked with known terror lists and revealed nothing relevant to the expanding efforts to root out terrorists before they strike domestically.

This unchecked abuse of personal liberties happened quietly until revealed recently by the PBS news documentary series Frontline. It represents a growing effort by the administration and the NSA to conduct domestic surveillance in the name of national security.

On April 13th of this year the administration submitted a bill to Congress to dramatically alter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). First adopted in 1978, FISA prohibits the warrantless collection of such communications that originate from domestic sources. Disguised as an effort at technological modernization of the thirty year old law, the bill sought to permit the wholesale collection of international phone calls, emails and other communications by redefining the term "electronic surveillance" contained in the act.

The proposal would allow NSA's "vacuum cleaners" to conduct warrantless sweeps of these communications. Ostensibly the proponents of the bill advance the clam that it is preserving individual privacy by its wholesale approach that does not, on its face, appear to be targeting specific individuals. The argument supporting the change rests heavily on the claim that in this age of global communication use of the internet and cell phones does not lead to the conclusion that the calls or emails were generated to or from sources within the United States.

Despite claims that individual freedoms are not impacted, the administration's plan, however, is that once acquired, these communications would be individually analyzed. They argue that such private personal or business conversations and data would not constitute "electronic surveillance."

On May 11th an amendment to an intelligence spending bill was passed by the House. The amendment that was offered by Representatives Schiff of California and Flake of Arizona, was strongly supported by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). It reaffirms that the protections set forth in FISA govern any domestic surveillance employed to collect foreign intelligence. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Americans are wearying of the constant barrage of orange alerts and airport restrictions. We are beginning to doubt the President's constant claims that NSA only targets known Al Queda operatives and supporters. Recently it was revealed that several AT&T operations centers were diverting all internet traffic to the NSA. What happens in Vegas should have stayed in Vegas. Once compromised and lost the liberties we are sacrificing in the name of national security may never be regained.

Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and is a Charter Fellow, American Academy of Trial Counsel. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website,

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